How can your small business compete for millennial talent in today’s world of work?

Lauren Kuykendall majored in advertising at the University of Oregon. She has held three jobs at two companies since graduation. Her first role, a media manager at a local business publisher, was to monitor ad placements. Although not too stressful, she found it boring, too office-based, and rather “secretarial.” She then moved internally to a role selling ‘sponsored’ news stories. Kuykendall had to pitch companies to buy articles as a form of advertisement. Her stress mounted every time she had to explain the confusing advertising/editorial gray area to her prospects. She then became a project manager at a small company that trains executives how to make presentations. Now working from home, she finds her job is flexible with a great mentorship, and she has plenty of time to spend with her boyfriend.

She’s been in the working world a total of 18 months.

Is your small business struggling to recruit and maintain millennial hires? Here are four things millennial workers want from a job.

1. Flexible work environments

Millennials – born between 1980 and 2000 – are first and foremost looking for an environment that gives them a good work/life balance and flexibility. As Kuykendall says, “I was raised to believe that happiness is more important than money.”

A report from PwC, Millennials at Work: Reshaping the Workplace, found that although these are the device-obsessed people of the digital age, they prefer an open, social, and creative work environment. What does this mean? Dilbert-era cubical dwellers they are not.

If there are set tasks with clear instructions and a deadline, millennials appreciate the freedom to work in the style — or even location — that they feel most productive in. Today’s businesses should focus less on employees “clocking in,” and more on the final product that is produced.

2. Personal and professional development

According to the that same PwC report, the millennial generation values training and development the most. Flexible working hours come in second. And in third place, cash bonuses.

Which three benefits would you most value from an employer?

% ranking each 1st place

  • Training & Development 22% 22%
  • Flexible working hours 19% 19%
  • Cash bonuses 14% 14%
  • Free private healthcare 8% 8%
  • Pension/Retirement funding 6% 6%
  • Greater vacation allowance 6% 6%
  • Financial assistance with housing 5% 5%
  • Company car 4% 4%
  • Educational debt assistance 3% 3%
  • Maternity/paternity benefits 3% 3%
  • Subsidised travel costs 2% 2%
  • Free child care 2% 2%
  • Access to low interest loans 2% 2%
  • Time off for charity/community work 1% 1%
  • I’d prefer no benefits and higher wages 4% 4%

Today’s young workers value personal development so highly because they want to receive more challenging and meaningful work when they are ready. They are eager to advance quickly. The BLS reports that the average tenure of millennial employees is two years. This compares to five years for Generation-Xers, and seven years for Baby Boomers. Millennials feel little negative stigma with changing jobs frequently if and when they don’t feel they are receiving substantial personal development.

3. Coaches as well as managers

Kuykendall is typical in her desire to neither to be over-managed nor under-managed. The right balance gives her the freedom to express her feelings (even, to be honest, if she finds the work extremely boring). It also lets her receive steady mentorship from managers who guide her, but are not “all up in my business.”

If there were ever a time to teach managers softer, nurturing skills it’s now. Millennials crave feedback – and not the kind that only comes around once a year in the formal annual review. To motivate them, your small business should focus on building in a much stronger culture of feedback and acknowledgment of individual contributions. In a UNC Kenan-Flagler business school report, Maximizing Millennials in the Workplace, a study of Sun Microsystems finds that employees who were mentored have a 23 percent higher retention rate than the unmentored. Even the mentors themselves had a 20 percent higher retention rate!

4. Tangible, rapid advancement

In decades past, career advancement has mostly hinged on seniority and “time served.” Everyone had to pay their dues. But Millennials want to be challenged when they’re ready, and promoted (or at least recognized) when they’ve met the challenge. If they don’t feel their work is being translated into better opportunity, they quickly become frustrated. Companies hoping to retain young talent must find ways to acknowledge and reward high achievers… quickly. Adding more levels, building in more grades, or creating rotational assignments are all ways even a smaller company can structure more momentum into careers.

It’s a new information age. Give your employees the right tools to succeed.

Julia Pickar /

More Info

We always welcome inquiries from energetic, creative, technology-focused professionals interested in joining our growing Centriworks team. As part of Thermocopy—one of East Tennessee’s most highly-regarded, locally owned companies—we continue a long tradition of supporting our employees as they build rewarding careers in a great work environment. Call Todd Sheppard at (865) 524-1124 or contact us online.

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